A popular Lebanese comedian, Nour Hajjar, was arrested on Wednesday after he posted a sketch online that made fun of the army and the economic crisis in Lebanon. The sketch, which was broadcast on a platform called awk.word, where comedians share their work, joked about how many people in the army work as delivery service drivers because of the low salaries and the high inflation.
Hajjar was summoned for interrogation at the military police barracks in Rihaniye, without being given a clear reason behind the summons, according to local media reports. His lawyer, Diala Shehadeh, was also asked to wait outside until a decision was made. The co-founder of awk.word, Dany Abou Jaoude, was also requested to join Hajjar’s lawyers at the military police headquarters on Monday.
The sketch, which has been widely shared on social media, drew mixed reactions from the public. Some praised Hajjar for his courage and humor, while others accused him of insulting the army and undermining its role in defending the country. In the video, Hajjar says: “Have you noticed that all [delivery company Toters’ couriers] are in the army? Can you imagine if Israel strikes us and the whole army is at Toters? We’ll see 30 mopeds arrive at the border. One rocket and we’ll be splashing Israel with honey-mustard sauce.”
Rights groups have condemned the arrest of Hajjar and called for his immediate release. Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Aya Majzoub, said: “No one should be detained for peacefully expressing their opinion, no matter how offensive or insulting others find that opinion.” She added that Hajjar’s arrest was “a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression and a worrying sign of the shrinking space for dissent in Lebanon.”
Lebanon is facing an unprecedented economic and political crisis that has pushed more than half of its population into poverty. The official currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value since October 2019, when mass protests erupted against the ruling elite. The country is also suffering from severe shortages of fuel, electricity, medicine, and basic goods. The government has failed to form a new cabinet since the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people and injured thousands more.
Hajjar is not the first comedian to face legal action for his satire in Lebanon. In 2019, another comedian, Hisham Haddad, was sued by the Central Bank governor Riad Salameh for mocking him on his TV show. Haddad was accused of defamation and harming the reputation of the Central Bank. The case was later dropped after Haddad apologized to Salameh.
The awk.word platform said that its aim was not to harm the Lebanese army, but to talk about the general situation in the country. “Humor is used to shed light on society’s problems,” Abou Jaoude told L’Orient Today. He said that he hoped that Hajjar would be released soon and that he would continue to perform his sketches.